NHL on NBCSN: Bolts look to climb out of Eastern Conference basement against Kings

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Los Angeles Kings at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Believe it or not, the Lightning come into this game in last place in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ve accumulated 52 points, which is tied with the Buffalo Sabres, but it’s taken them a game more to get to that number.

A win tonight could jolt Tampa Bay ahead of both Buffalo and Detroit. It was also leave just one point behind Carolina and two points behind New Jersey, Florida and the Islanders.

Currently, the Bolts find themselves six points behind Toronto for third spot in the Atlantic and seven points behind Philadelphia for the last Wild Card spot in the conference, so there’s still hope for them.

As close as they are to a postseason berth, their poor play in 2017 just can’t be ignored. In their 15 games since Jan. 3, they have an ugly 4-9-2 record.

On a positive note, they were able to put their three-game losing streak to bed with a 3-2 shootout win over the Ducks on Saturday night. But if they want to be playing games in late April, they’ll have to go on a long run.

“To start getting points, you have to start playing the right way and be consistent,” forward Alex Killorn said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “I don’t think we were consistent in the last two games after the (All-Star) break (last weekend). (Saturday) it seemed like a really consistent three-period effort, something we haven’t had a ton of. This is something we want to use going into the next game.”

They’ll attempt to string back-to-back wins together for the first time since Dec. 20-22, when they took down the Red Wings and Blues.

The Kings currently sit in the top Wild Card spot in the West, but a postseason birth is still far from being a sure thing for them.

They’re one point up the St. Louis Blues, who own the other Wild Card spot and just two points ahead of the Flames, who are on the outside looking in.

The Kings went into Sunday’s game in Washington riding a five-game winning streak, but that came to a crashing halt, as they were dismantled, 5-0, by the Caps (you can watch the highlights by clicking the video at the top of the page).

“Yeah, I mean, it obviously wasn’t a good effort for us,” said defenseman Jake Muzzin, per LAKingsinsider.com. “As a team with that firepower we have to control the puck better and we didn’t do a good job tonight. Our execution wasn’t good and we gave them opportunities to score and they capitalized on it so can’t let it trickle in to the rest of our road trip here. Learn from it and get back to the way we were playing before and carry that in to Tampa.”

Last month, the Lightning beat the Kings in Los Angeles, 2-1, thanks to a stellar performance from Ben Bishop.

Related:

Yzerman might have to accept a poor return in a Bishop trade

The Bolts are in “uncharted territory,” as losses continue to pile up and playoff hopes fade

Jeff Carter is the engine driving the Kings this season

Cullen signs with Wild, opting against retirement (and Penguins)

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Matt Cullen is going home, but that doesn’t mean that he’s retiring from hockey.

Instead, the Minnesota native decided to sign a one-year, $1 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. It’s unclear why, precisely, Cullen didn’t ink a deal to try to “threepeat” with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Wild note that his deal also includes $700K in potential performance bonuses.

This will be the 40-year-old’s second run with the Wild. His first run came from 2010-11 through 2012-13, where he appeared in 193 regular-season games and five postseason contests for Minnesota.

Cullen managed back-to-back 30+ point seasons with the Penguins while providing useful all-around play as a veteran center. If he can maintain a reasonably high level of play, this gives the Wild quite the solid group down the middle, even with Martin Hanzal gone.

Oilers ink Draisaitl to monster eight-year, $68 million deal

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The Edmonton Oilers have locked up their cornerstone players for the foreseeable future.

They didn’t come cheap.

Just weeks after signing Connor McDavid to a eight-year, $100 million deal, the Oilers signed fellow forward Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million deal. The contract carries a $8.5M average annual cap hit and, combined with McDavid’s $12.5M, will now cost the Oilers $21M annually through 2025.

McDavid certainly warranted his payday. The same can be said of Draisaitl.

The 21-year-old just wrapped his three-year, entry-level deal, and couldn’t have done so in finer fashion. Draisaitl enjoyed a terrific season, platooning between the second-line center position and the wing alongside McDavid, and finished with 29 goals and 77 points.

Then, the playoffs happened.

Draisaitl had a terrific postseason, racking up six goals and 16 points in 13 games. At the time of elimination he was sitting second among all scorers — trailing only Evgeni Malkin — and was downright brilliant in Edmonton’s seven-game loss to Anaheim, finishing with 13 points.

More to follow…

 

Report: Vegas among teams in on Pens draftee Byron

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Will Butcher isn’t the only college free agent garnering interest in free agency.

University of Maine senior Blaine Byron, Pittsburgh’s sixth-round pick in ’13, has passed on signing with the club and can now ink with a team of his choosing. Per The Hockey News, the four “lead suitors” for Byron are Vegas, New Jersey, Ottawa and Buffalo.

Byron, 22, is coming off a great year. He racked up 18 goals and 41 points in 36 games, finishing tied for 18th in the country in scoring. It’s unclear where he would’ve fit in the Pittsburgh organization, though, and one has to think the signing of Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese might’ve played a factor in his departure.

In a recent Tribune-Review piece, Byron did make a list of the club’s top-20 prospects, coming in at No. 17.

Yesterday, Butcher — the reigning Hobey Baker winner — announced that he wouldn’t sign with Colorado, the team that drafted him four years ago. Instead, Butcher will parlay a successful senior campaign at Denver University into interest on the open market.

Under Pressure: Barry Trotz

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This post is part of Capitals Day on PHT…

When the Capitals hired Barry Trotz three years ago, they said he was “the only coach we coveted,” calling him “an ideal fit to help lead our club.”

And in many ways, Trotz has been an ideal fit. He’s led to the club to consecutive Presidents’ Trophies, racking up 156 wins over the course of three seasons. He won the 2016 Jack Adams as coach of the year. Players have performed exceptionally well on his watch: Braden Holtby won his first-ever Vezina, Alex Ovechkin racked up a pair of Rocket Richard trophies and both Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov were named All-Stars.

Despite all this, Trotz is now coaching for his job. Essentially.

A string of disheartening playoff failures — each more painful than the last — have put him in an uncomfortable and pressure-packed situation. He’s heading into the the last of his four-year deal with no contract certainty beyond.

Yes, it’s true Caps GM Brian MacLellan didn’t make any changes with Trotz or to his coaching staff following the Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh.

But MacLellan didn’t offer an extension, either.

Brian Burke once likened this scenario to being a lame duck. Trotz refused to see it that way, insisting that he wasn’t worried about the spot he was in.

“No,” he told CSN Mid Atlantic in June, when asked if not having a contract changes his approach at all. “It has 0.0 effect on me, actually. Not at all. I think it might have [had] an effect 10, 12 years ago for me. Not now. It has zero effect.

“I’m not worrying about that at all.”

This is pretty much on par with Trotz’s messaging from the moment Washington crashed out of the playoffs. While his players were visibly dejected and downright hurt during locker clean-out day, the 55-year-old was upbeat.

Defiant, almost.

Trotz talked about how the team’s window wasn’t closed, and how it would eventually “break through that barrier.” He suggested “laughing at the past” could “ease us into the future.”

The assembled media took note of this, which contrasted the vibe of his visibly distraught players. So it was asked — why did he seem more upbeat than his players?

From the Washington Post:

“Put it this way — I haven’t slept in two friggin’ days. To say that I don’t feel very distraught, that really sort of angers me, because talk to my family to see if I’m distraught.

“I have to be positive in terms of, ‘do I think we’re going in the right direction?’ Yes, and I’m positive of that. But we haven’t broken through. That’s why I’m probably the way I am. I also said we didn’t get to where we wanted to get to.

“That angers me. When something doesn’t go your way, you can roll up in a ball and feel sorry for yourself. I don’t.”

That Trotz took this approach isn’t surprising. Coaching is a leadership role, and there didn’t seem to be any point to piling onto what was already a fairly miserable day in D.C.

So hey, why not keep that vibe going when it comes to contract uncertainty?

Trotz will likely continue to do so, even in the face of growing pressure. And pressure will continue to grow. Remember, there’s one final and very important dynamic at play — right next to Trotz behind the Washington bench is assistant coach Todd Reirden. The same Todd Reirden who’s thought to be a head-coach-in-waiting, and has been tied to previous openings in Colorado and Florida.

Fun times in Washington. As they always are.